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Canada’s CHIME telescope joins SKA pathfinder family

A view of CHIME

CHIME’s huge reflectors are 100m long and each one measures 20m across. (Credit: CHIME)

SKA Global Headquarters, 21 November 2018 – Canada’s largest radio telescope, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), has been officially granted Square Kilometre Array (SKA) pathfinder status.

SKA pathfinders and precursors are facilities all over the world involved in SKA-related science and technology studies, and provide vital input for the teams developing the SKA. While precursor telescopes are located at the future SKA sites, pathfinders are dotted around the globe.

Located at the National Research Council of Canada’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in British Columbia, CHIME is an unusual telescope with no moving parts and a huge field of view, which stretches almost from the northern to the southern horizon.

Astronomers are using the signals it collects to measure the expansion history of the Universe over a period of 4 billion years of cosmic time, by creating a 3D map of its most abundant element: hydrogen. Studying the Universe’s expansion in detail may provide evidence of what  is causing its acceleration, one possible candidate being the mysterious Dark Energy.

The telescope’s field of view is around 200 square degrees – an area 1000 times larger than the full moon. (Credit: CHIME)

CHIME is also ideal for other SKA-related studies, including discovering large numbers of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) – a phenomenon consisting of short bursts of radio waves from far outside our Milky Way galaxy, but of unknown origin – and monitoring Galactic radio pulsars.

“CHIME’s observations will set the scene for the next generation of experiments with the SKA, which will be able to see even further back into the history of the Universe, observing hydrogen from a time when the Universe was less than a billion years old,” said Canadian SKA Science Director Prof. Bryan Gaensler.

“Canada has a rich history in radio astronomy, and CHIME has continued this tradition by bringing together scientists and engineers from across the country. CHIME has also proven to be a fantastic platform for training young students and postdocs on the relevant technologies. These are the next generation of scientists who will be keen to use the SKA in the next decade and beyond,” Prof. Gaensler added.

“With CHIME we are performing exciting measurements of cosmology and FRBs which will help to frame the questions that the SKA is being designed to address,” said Prof. Mark Halpern from the University of British Columbia, which co-leads the project with McGill University, the University of Toronto and the National Research Council of Canada.

“We expect to find thousands of new FRBs, completely transforming this field, so what we learn from CHIME will be hugely valuable when planning future observations with the SKA.”

CHIME is a relatively new facility, achieving first light in September 2017. It brings the number of SKA pathfinders to 15, in addition to the four SKA precursor facilities in South Africa and Australia.

Read more on SKA precursors and pathfinders

Read more about CHIME